North­eastern stu­dents, alumni, and fac­ulty will be in Copen­hagen­next Fri­dayas observers for the fif­teenth United Nations Cli­mate Change Con­fer­ence, which could prove to be one of the most his­toric meet­ings among global leaders in the past 60 years.

The event, run­ning from December 7 to December 18, will con­vene more than 15,000 par­tic­i­pants from 192 coun­tries, rep­re­senting gov­ern­ment, busi­ness, and envi­ron­mental groups, to nego­tiate a frame­work for reducing green house gas emissions.

For Assis­tant Pro­fessor of Polit­ical Sci­ence Denise Garcia, who spear­headed the expe­ri­en­tial learning oppor­tu­nity for 15 North­eastern stu­dents, the con­fer­ence is the most impor­tant global meeting since the mul­ti­lat­eral trade con­fer­ence that led to the founding of the World Trade Orga­ni­za­tion after World War II.

World leaders attending the con­fer­ence face a litany of dif­fi­cult issues, she said.

The biggest chal­lenge will be on how to pay for and address adap­ta­tion and mit­i­ga­tion strate­gies,” said Garcia, noting that it won’t be easy for devel­oping nations to afford the renew­able tech­nolo­gies needed to power their growth and devel­op­ment in more envi­ron­men­tally sus­tain­able ways.

Garcia noted the impor­tance of reworking the Kyoto Pro­tocol, a code of con­duct aimed at com­bating global cli­mate change. One hun­dred and eighty seven sov­er­eign states have signed the agree­ment, but the United States has not.

Inter­na­tional affairs major Josh Minney, ’10, who studied the Kyoto Pro­tocol in Garcia’s con­flict nego­ti­a­tion course last spring, views the meet­ings as a chance to increase aware­ness of the envi­ron­mental and eco­nomic impact of global cli­mate change.

Food and water scarcity are prob­lems,” explained Minney, who noted that the United States is the world’s largest con­sumer of energy and its second largest pol­luter after China. “But cli­mate change is turning up the heat on all of these problems.

Finally, the idea of going green and cli­mate change has reached the public. ‘Going green’ is now a hip term.”

Over the past sev­eral months, North­eastern worked hard to gain the nec­es­sary accred­i­ta­tion to attend the meet­ings. Pres­i­dent Joseph Aoun, for example, wrote to the United Nations cli­mate change sec­re­tariat requesting observer status as a non-​​governmental orga­ni­za­tion, which was granted.

Each of the stu­dents attending also wrote let­ters to the sec­re­tariat expressing their interest in the con­fer­ence, and Garcia wrote a cover letter con­firming Northeastern’s com­mit­ment to be a part of the his­toric proceedings.

North­eastern alumnus Richard McLaws, who grad­u­ated in Jan­uary with a degree in polit­ical sci­ence, took care of the logis­tics: he booked hotels and planned dinners.

Mem­bers of the North­eastern con­tin­gent are eager to see how the meet­ings will play out.

McLaws, who is par­tic­u­larly inter­ested in how cli­mate change impacts human secu­rity, said, “Everyone is going to be at this meeting. If there’s any progress, it has to happen here.”

The sig­nif­i­cance of the North­eastern community’s attendance—as well as the atten­dance of sev­eral other uni­ver­sity del­e­ga­tions, including those from Har­vard, Yale, Princeton and Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­fornia at Berkeley—isn’t lost on Minney.

I like to think that we are the future leaders of America,” he said. “We signed on to go before Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. We are going to learn as much as we can and then put it into prac­tice, if the government’s not going to do it.”

Over the course of the week, North­eastern stu­dents will have a chance to attend side lec­tures and other events aimed at building aware­ness of global cli­mate change. Minney is bringing along his résumé to net­work with other envi­ron­mental activists.

Here is an oppor­tu­nity for stu­dents to blend theory and prac­tice,” said Garcia. “Not only will they get to see how com­plex nego­ti­a­tions take place; they’ll get an up close view of how the United Nations works, how con­sensus is built and how opposing posi­tions are reconciled.”

Scott Quint, asso­ciate dean of Inter­na­tional Stu­dent and Scholar Ser­vices and Inter­cul­tural Pro­grams, who is part of the university’s del­e­ga­tion, sees a par­allel between Garcia’s work on con­flict nego­ti­a­tions and his own efforts to facil­i­tate cross-​​cultural inter­ac­tions among students.

By attending the cli­mate con­fer­ence, said Quint, “Stu­dents will learn just how inter­con­nected our global com­mu­nity is, and how deci­sions can impact cul­tures on a global scale.”